Beginning this weekend the LA Comedy Fest (November 2 – 11) gets underway at several venues around the city. Featuring over a weeks worth of new projects from new talent in film, live comedy and screenplays, past participants have gone on to win best short film Academy Awards, the Last Comic Standing and development deals for Network Television. Previous performers have included Janeane Garafolo, Zoe Saldana, Seth Meyers, Tim Daly, Christina Ricci, Anthony LaPaglia and Matthew Lillard.
Given all of the changes in the areas of technology, finance, production and distribution that surround the development, creation and ultimately release of works by new filmmakers I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to find out just how they are doing it. My search led me to a series of meetings and conversations with Adrian Roup of FilmCrafter.com, an energetic, entrepreneurial and talented young film maker of Belgian descent, whose short filmTango Changes Everything will be shown Saturday evening (11/3) during the 6pm time slot at the Los Feliz 3 Cinemas at 1822 North Vermont Avenue.
Tell us a little about yourself – how you became interested in film and how you arrived in Los Angeles:
Adrian Roup: I grew up around the world of film production. My Dad is a filmmaker in South Africa. I’ve learned an enormous amount from him over the years. I originally decided to go into film when I was studying for a business degree in South Africa – while working on film sets on weekends and vacations. I found the complexities, dynamics of teamwork, enormous logistical challenges, perseverance, general work ethic and tonality of the filmmakers that I met inspirational. I also had an opportunity to learn hands on from my Dad who’s been in the business his whole life.
I’ve been very privileged in my opportunities to learn in this business through mentors like my Dad and others. I also had the opportunity to continue my studies through some wonderful programs at UCLA.
Was this your first film?
AR: Tango Changes Everything was my first narrative fiction work. Up until this project all of my work had been non-fiction / documentary format; interview based story telling be it for corporate clients, publicity, behind the scenes on movies or other ‘documentary style’ projects. I wanted the challenge of originating something entirely from my own imagination. Starting with a blank page in front of you. Anyone who’s ever done that can relate I’m sure.
Why did you choose to make a comedy?
AR: I knew upfront that the genre I was interested in was comedy because that’s a big part of my personality. People describe me as someone who has a casual / observational / contextual humor. I’m generally a person who chooses to see the humorous side in life because I believe that humor and laughter is universally human and allows us to connect in special ways. I also tend to default to a humorous resolution in challenging situations. I’m often the first one to ease tension among a new group of people by breaking the ice. Growing up whenever there was tension or an argument within our family – I was typically the one to find a different and humorous perspective and diffuse the tension. I think humor and comedy is something that connects people and that is interesting to me. If I can find humor in something as serious as Tango – I think comedy is probably a comfortable genre for me.
How did you decide the subject for your film?
AR: Practicality was a big issue. I knew this would be a short film with probably fewer resources than I needed. In order to make things easier, or achievable, I needed a backdrop that I had access to. Because Argentine Tango has been a hobby of mine for a number of years I knew many people in the Tango community in Los Angeles and so that was a starting point.
Although integral to the story and an important device – Tango is a backdrop to what is a fairly quintessential coming of age story: “young guy has low self esteem (insert device: learns Tango) builds confidence and ultimately gets the girl”.
Did you have an approximate length in mind from the outset?
AR: I’d been watching a lot of short films and speaking to others who had made or were making shorts. It seemed that, my best guess, 10 minutes was a perfect magical sweet spot for a short film which not only has to be entertaining and tell a story but also has to contend with other ambitious short films at festivals where shorter is often better.
Did you know from the beginning you were going to write, direct and edit?
AR: I knew that I wanted an opportunity to spread my wings and gain experience. I knew I had the basic tools to write, produce, direct and edit and I was prepared to do whatever it took to deliver the film.
Then I went about looking for people who were better than me at what they did. After months of relentless persistence, persuading, begging, bribing and seducing – I found some of them. Unfortunately because of the nature of short films, which do not offer sufficient financial reward for people who are professional and good at what they do – I was not able to get everyone I needed. So I filled the gaps myself to the best of my abilities.
In the creation of any length film your number one enemy is time. Given the wide variety of tasks that go into a successful project the more quality people you can find to wear some of the hats the better off you will be. By no means was this a solo project. I was incredibly fortunate to benefit from the contributions of a great number of people. Even on this short film project there were over forty cast and crew members
I’m guessing you need them not to just to wear their hats but to either match your, or bring along their own, sense of passion and dedication?
AR: Film is such a team process and everyone’s contribution is so important to both the process and the final outcome; people who don’t take their contribution seriously don’t stick around too long. And for a short film the challenge, the demands are in some ways even greater: The end result will probably have no viable commercial outlet. People who sign on who are already in the filmmaking business are probably at best getting paid something like 25% of their usual wage for that job. Sometimes people who have signed on with a sense of energy or dedication then get offered a paying gig they have to take
Which one of those roles you filled presented the biggest challenge? Which was the most gratifying?
AR: I’d say that every role was uniquely and enormously challenging but equally rewarding. That blank page in the beginning is a killer. So you write something. It’s crap. But you try again . . . and again. And again. And eventually you get something. Maybe it’s only one paragraph, one line, one word. Maybe it’s a character. But it’s a little piece of the puzzle, a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. So you keep going. It’s hard. It was like that with absolutely everything I had to do on this project. It’s hard work. Writing the screenplay was devastatingly hard. I went through seventeen drafts. But when you get to the end there’s nothing that is quite so gratifying.
Then comes the challenge of directing. And all of a sudden something that meant so much to you as a writer – a concept, a character, a bit of dialog or a scene – it may not work. And you have to be true to the hat that you are now wearing. Even more so with editing. You have something that was funny on paper, and funny when you rehearsed and shot it – and in the editing process you see it just doesn’t work. Even if it is a great ‘bit’, it may not work in the context of the entire piece. When you are editing your own film you have to be prepared to walk away from everything you have written, shot, blocked and lit.
Would you make another film this same way, wearing so many hats?
AR: In reality I would probably have to. Possibly even wear more hats. We’re living in a world where MOW (movies of the week) are being made in Canada in 3 weeks. An entire 90-minute film in three weeks. That’s a real game changer. Budgets have changed. Schedules have changed. So we as filmmakers need to adapt.
I think having multiple resources to draw on is never a bad thing – but it’s also important to recognize when you have someone who is uniquely challenged to take some of that responsibility away from you and do something magical with it. When this happens you’re lucky. When you get a team of people like that you’re truly blessed.
What else did you learn through the process?
AR: The importance of test screening. There was a series of scenes with one character that seemed really funny in the writing and filming, but when we screened it the test audience thought there was an element of meanness, which was entirely unintended and so served as a distraction from the lightness and humor we were seeking. That part of the film had to go.
Also the importance of contingency plans for your contingency plans! You need a plan A, B and C. And if it comes down to plan C you need to be able to sustain a certain amount of good humor. I was incredibly fortunate to have so many people willing to be so generous with their talent and their time. But whether your cast or crew is paid or not – it is important to establish and sustain a tonality throughout the process that encourages creativity and adaptability among the entire crew.
You were able to secure a major portion of your financing for Tango Changes Everything through a social media type vehicle, Kickstarter.com. How was the experience with Kickstarter as a funding mechanism?
AR: Kickstarter is amazing and I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m constantly in awe with what they have done with modern day crowd funding. It is truly stunning to see a community of creative people coming together in one place to rally and support each other. I think that the notion that we can help each other make dreams come true is a very powerful thing with virtually unlimited potential.
The campaign itself taught me a lot about marketing, communication and leadership. It taught me about how important it is to keep people invested and motivated. I’d go so far as to say I took some of that tonality to the set with me. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
How did you hear about your films acceptance to the LA Comedy Film Festival?
AR: Getting news from any film festival is amazing! It means that someone is picking up a phone or sending an email to let you know: “Hey, you know that short film you made? You know that blank piece of paper you started with? Well, great news buddy! We chose your short film to screen at our festival out of hundreds or thousands of other entries.”
It’s a really nice bit of validation – and I think as artists it’s an important part of why we do what we do.
Where and when will your film be screening?
AR: So far I’m thrilled to be attending both the LA Comedy Festival on Nov 3rd and the Monaco Festival between Dec 7th and 10th. Wish us luck!
I’ll also keep the updates coming of any new festivals on my Facebook page: facebook.com/tangochangeseverythingmovie. And, if I could, I’d like to thank the incredible generosity, encouragement, support, time, effort and passion given by everyone associated with the film to making this project a reality.
I think you just did!
AR: It was truly a team effort and I feel very privileged to have been the instigator of Tango Changes Everything. I’d also strongly encourage anyone who’s vaguely curious about Tango (or any form of dance) to take the plunge and try it. I think you’ll be amazed.
Thank you Adrian. Best of luck this weekend and with the other festivals where you’ll have a chance to screen your film.
AR: Thanks very much!
Thanks again to Adrian Roup. If you want the chance check out some of the exciting new faces and voices on the comedy film horizon the Comedy Fest Short Film Competition takes place Saturday November 3. For more information about the entire week of events that comprise LA Comedy Fest 2012, including schedules and venues, go to: http://www.lacomedyfest.com.